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Local linemen, repairmen join strike by 20,000 AT&T workers in the South

Communications union workers in eastern Kentucky are among more than 20,000 AT&T employees that went on strike in nine Southern states over the weekend.

The Communications Workers of America Local 3317 in Pikeville represents about 60 AT&T linemen, repair group employees, construction crews and others from Letcher County to Lawrence County, local president Joe Fields said Tuesday. Only one man works in the Whitesburg office and about five report in Whitesburg, but he said others come in and out of the county on specific jobs.

Fields, a service technician, said a union bargaining team has been trying to work out a new contract with the telecom giant since June. The contract expired August 3 with no deal in sight, and the union charges that company isn’t bargaining in good faith. He said strike isn’t about money, it’s about unfair labor practices and job security.

“The CEO said he was going to create 7,000 jobs with that big tax cut they got,” Fields said. “They got, I think, $4 billion in tax cuts and they have laid off 28,000 since then.”

The union says AT&T isn’t sending negotiators to the meetings who have the authority to make decisions, and the process has dragged on with no agreements.

When asked if there will be service interruptions for customers, AT&T said that it’s prepared for a strike. The workers who have walked off are technicians and customer service representatives for AT&T’s “wireline” home and business Internet and phone division, not its cell phone division.

But Fields said cell phones systems have to connect to the regular telephone system to useful.

“Cell phones aren’t going to work too good if they don’t have fiber,” Fields said.

AT&T says it disagrees with the union’s claims of bad bargaining practices.

The AT&T workers are on strike in the area covered by the old BellSouth company — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Telecom workers periodically go on strike, including about 17,000 AT&T workers in a one-day walkout in California and Nevada in 2017 and 39,000 Verizon workers who struck for six weeks in 2016. The last strike here was in the early 1980s, Fields said.

He said he has only been president of the union for two years, and has been overwhelmed by the support shown by other unions in the area.

He said he has heard people in the community say telephone company employees make a lot of money already and shouldn’t be striking, but he reiterated that it is not about the money. He said improving poor cell service in rural areas is one of the things on which the company could have spent its tax-cut windfall and helped employees with job security and pay.

“We’re not asking for money or to sit out here for nothing,” he said. “We want to company to invest in the community, and with that, the job opportunities and job security will come.”

Compiled from Mountain Eagle and Associated Press reports.

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